“Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” [Matthew 22:36-40 (MSG)]
Decades ago, I found an interesting article in a parenting magazine having to do with negative and positive commands. Because our brains tend to best process the end of a sentence rather than its beginning, when a mother says, “Don’t tease your sister,” the child tends to hear “Tease your sister!” Moreover, telling children not to do something requires them to double process. First, they have to figure out what it is they’re not supposed to do and then they have to figure out what it is they’re supposed to do instead! While there are an infinite number of alternatives to not doing something, there is only one alternative when told what to do! Since vague instructions like “Behave!” leave a lot of gray area, a clear course of action should be given.
I recalled that advice when writing about the 615 Old Testament mitzvoth. 365 of those laws were negative commands, one for every day of the year, and that’s a whole lot of “don’ts” and “shalt nots” to remember. Any reading of the Old Testament tells us the Israelites weren’t any more successful in obeying them than were my children when I told them not to do something.
Perhaps those psychologists were familiar with the Bible and the way Jesus put a positive spin on things when he summed up the law in the one word—love—and the two commands—love God and love your neighbor. Two direct laws, stated in a positive way, with no need to split hairs because there are no exceptions. Love—it’s what we do and the power of the Holy Spirit is how we do it
For years, I misunderstood Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 about taking on his yoke. Always anxious to unload my burdens and get some rest, I was happy to dump my problems on Him. This verse, however, isn’t about the burdens of our troubles and fears; it is about the burden of the law laid upon the Jews by the scribes and Pharisees. When following a set of laws is considered the path to salvation, it does, indeed, become a heavy burden. In contrast, Jesus’ yoke is easy because his teaching equips us to live our lives in God’s will. The yoke of discipleship is a light one; it is simply walking with Jesus and allowing him to teach us moment by moment how to live His way. Even though my initial interpretation was incorrect, that verse continues to give me comfort. If love leads my actions, I don’t have to worry about doing the wrong thing. Instead, when led by love, I become the right person—the person God wants me to be.
Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. [Romans 13:8-10 (MSG)]
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